This and that

Dear friends and colleagues,

I am hoping, maybe unrealistically, that I can walk well enough to ring doorbells by the fall. Even if not for Warren or, I have not given up yet – Sanders. It will make me feel less useless.

And while I immensely enjoy visits to and from family and friends, reading or listening to books and doing crossword puzzles — and slogging thru 100 emails et al a day (90% deles)—I miss being in the middle of the action.

Getting old however is better – I think – than the alternative.

Seeing almost all my friends in Chicago was wonderful. But the North Dakota Study Group gathering was frustrating for reasons that I’m sorting through. It is always good to see young and old education allies, but I felt uncomfortablyI out of synch with many of my “allies” on what our task today is. I will share my dilemma in my next blog.

I have committed to writing several essays and chapters  – focused on what schools could do to advance democracy. It boils down to “practicing it”. First and foremost, amongst the adults.

I have been reading manuscripts by teachers, and some recently published practitioner books such as “Schools for the Age of Upheaval” by T. Elijah Hawkes. It tells a story of one school and how much plain, but not ordinary, mutual respect can do to create powerful learning communities. Order it!

Meanwhile, my friend Jane Andrias and I are working with an old colleague, Jeremy Engel, making a film about the 1991 and 1992 graduates of Central Park East Secondary School – almost 30 years later. It means a lot to us and we are hoping it will help others too. The life and death of that school continues to haunt me. However, I am made happy whenever I am reminded of how important it was to so many of us – former teachers, students and their families.



Slaying Goliath


Slaying Goliath
The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools
By Diane Ravitch
Penguin Books


Dear friends and colleagues,
Three cheers for Slaying Goliath.
Diane Ravitch and I have been agonizing together over the fate of public education (and the fate of teacher unions) for a long time. As usual we have different takes on it from time to time. This time our differences about this or that person or situation are definitely minor.

I am a supporter of the singleton self-governing charters started by teachers like myself who did not have the good luck I did. I essentially was given the chance—along with many, many friends, starting in the mid-1970s, to create several charter-like schools in East Harlem within the regular New York City system and again in the 1990s in the Boston school system. These exciting opportunities led to many dozens, maybe hundreds, of mostly small successful innovative schools throughout the country. Most resembled what Al Shanker had hoped for, which Ravitch reminds us of favorably (and that I had forgotten).

But this enthusiasm for teacher-led innovations—never the dominant trend amongst reformers—has gradually disappeared. It is this that makes me ambivalent about attacking charters “in general” when there are hundreds that resemble the work we did in the system.

Diane seems a bit overly optimistic about what lies ahead—unless we elect a friend in the White House. Not only a Democrat but one who understands and treasures the connection between public education and democracy.  Then just maybe Ravitch’s optimism will be justified!

Diane’s description of the forces on both sides helped put together, for me-and for other colleagues, what we have been living through. Wow! What mighty foes we have been facing. That we have even slowed them down is remarkable.

This fact-filled narrative is a must for those who care about the fragile future of even a very flawed democracy. Each time we privatize an essential public institution we come closer and closer to what some of us most fear. Ravitch’s description of the history and present status of even this old public institution is a much-needed tool in this struggle.

Her voice is a vital force for a vision of democracy that  I share and which is especially vulnerable at this particular moment in our history.

Thanks, Diane .  My only very  serious criticism is that you did not include me along with the many photos included in this book.
P.S.  In February I am headed for the 47th meeting of theNorth Dakota Study Group back in Chicago this year.  What an amazing teacher-led institution!  We have survived.  Vito Perrone would be proud of us.  Then a few weeks later I will be in Bloomington, Indiana doing something!!  Then I will collapse for a while.


Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools: Statement of Principles

(as referred to in my previous blog)


Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools:
Statement of Principles

We aspire to be great community schools of choice for the families we serve.

We are united behind the original ideals of the charter school contract. We embrace our diverse communities, which include immigrants, people of color, children with disabilities, the homeless, English language learners, people of all faiths, and the LGBTQ community. We believe in the power of schools to transform the lives of young people AND in the responsibility of government to ensure that all children have adequate nutrition, shelter, health care, and educational opportunity.


We reaffirm that charter schools are public schools. All public schools should receive equitable funding.

We are committed to transparency in our practice and accountability to our students, parents, government authorizers, and the public at-large

As public institutions, our charter schools are open, welcoming, and responsive to our many stakeholders.

Autonomy & Accountability

Autonomy in exchange for accountability is the bedrock principle of charter schools.

Real accountability must be rooted in the development of the whole child, and therefore we resist pressures to judge schools or children by any one measure.

The work we do at our schools is for the greater good. We guard against any practice that subordinates the work we do to personal or corporate profit.


Because charter schools were created as laboratories of innovation, we seek out opportunities for collaboration among district, charter, and independent schools.

We seek out opportunities to learn from and exchange ideas with our colleagues.

Our workplaces are collaborative, not adversarial. We invest in our teachers so that they can invest in us.


We commit to serving students who reflect our communities and neighborhoods, particularly students with the greatest educational needs.

We actively recruit, retain, and serve the highest-need students, such as students with disabilities, English language learners, and students with challenging life circumstances.

We are determined to educate all of our students to the best of our ability, every day.


Our independence is a public trust. Autonomy provides the freedom to innovate and differentiate.

We have an obligation to research, develop, and implement new ideas, practices, and strategies.

School innovation is reinforced by use of multiple measures for evaluation. We must learn how to measure what is truly important and germane to the mission of our schools.

We share these practices, serving as a laboratory for all other public schools.

Respect for Teachers

We rely on a professional and compassionate teaching staff to model the attitudes we expect in our students. Our schools provide innovative opportunities that encourage young teachers to excel at their craft and become great educators.

Personnel evaluations and all our employment practices are fair and transparent.

Governance & Community

Strong independent boards and an engaged community are essential to school governance and student success.

Boards must be fully and demonstrably independent from service providers and must have a robust process for community input.

Decision-making involves feedback from our students, families, and the community at large.


All students have the right to a high-quality education.

Our parents, students, and caregivers choose our schools and trust that we will provide the best possible education.

We support their right to make that choice and will do everything in our power to fulfill our responsibilities.


Keeping Progressive Schools Alive

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Happy New Year and a special thanks to those who respond to past blogs about choice, et al. I always mean to respond to each comment.

They helped my thinking a lot. And, I have decided to start a new political tendency: “The ‘It Depends’ Party.” I find it is my answer to so many of the issues facing us in life, and in schools.


For example, school choice can be very useful, or very dangerous, it depends. Ditto for small schools, although I worry less about its misuse.

But self-governance, my third principle, I think holds up best.

Watching helplessly as some of our wonderful New York City small, self-governing schools of choice have been destroyed, I have learned a lot. But not yet how we could have avoided it. Rereading Seymour Sarason’s last book, The Predictable Failure of Educational: can we change reform before it’s too late, I wish I could confer with him. At the time I just thought that if I understood him right I could avoid the mistakes. I didn’t. I thought, for example, that in the absence of a strong movement behind us I would have to rely on powerful allies. It worked for 30 years. But that was not enough.

Some of those schools we started in the 1970s and 80s have survived. So we need to explore how they did it. In some cases their original leaders are still there, hanging on tenaciously for fear that they to will fall prey.  Some have succeeded perhaps by being so invisibly unnoticeable that they made no enemies. In contrast, many of us were very noisy about our beliefs hoping to encourage a movement.

In Boston, the Pilots were protected for a while by the local union’s support and our existence in the labor-management contract. But Boston has gone through several leadership changes since the Boston Pilots began and each time we are nervous. And the original idea was that the autonomies offered the Pilots would expand over time to the whole system. We had modest success in a few areas.

At the heart of the failure is our weak belief in democracy, the absence of a larger movement on its behalf and structural changes that might make these autonomies less dependent on individual allies within the system.

While I was in Minneapolis for the Progressive Educators Conference a few months ago, I learned more about the Minnesota work. Their charter schools are closer to what some of us had in mind when the idea of chapter schools was first proposed. The meeting in Albuquerque in late November of the recently formed Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools (CPIC) was encouraging. I see them as an inspiring and hopeful sign. They see themselves as allies of district public schools. For those who remember, The Coalition of Essential Schools was in fact inclusive of charter and public schools (oh how I miss the Coalition).

CPIC faces enormous challenges given how powerful the chain store charter schools are and how dependent even the best of the self-governing independent charter schools are on them politically for their own futures. Meanwhile it seems imperative to me that independent charters join CPIC. There are at least 1,000 of them in this country, and so far CPIC has at most a few hundred in their membership.

It is vital that we keep the democratic schools we now have alive to provide support and learn from as we grow a movement capable of making a serious impact. Meanwhile we might try to enlist one of the progressive candidates for President to our side. Ideas?

Tell your friends about Coalition of Public Independent Charters and see if any of them can figure out a way to get these ideas into the 2020 campaigns, since, in fact, what we are proposing, I think, is that all publicly funded schools follow CPICs principles (which I will print separately).

Have a wonderful New Year, one that ends with Trump’s defeat and the resurgence of a movement for expanding and deepening our daily weakened democracy.


Ethical School Podcast

Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues
A colleague of mine, Jon Moscow, from my old Central Park East Secondary School days, puts out a frequent podcast on schools.  Here is a link to mine, but I like a lot of them!
Sample them and let me know which you thought was especially interesting or useful.
To see more of their podcasts go to
News from Mission Hill school.  Ayla Gavins has stepped down from her leadership of Mission Hill after at least 15 years as its principal!  The role is now in the hands of two teachers who go back many many years—Jenerra Williams and Geralyn  McLaughlin.  Geralyn was at MH on our original opening day and Jenerra came a few years later as a student teacher.  In keeping with our piloting tradition they are coming on as teacher-leaders, not principals.  More on  this after I hear more from them.  Some of the staff are coming to visit me on October 13th.



New thoughts on Charter Schools….

Just took a long swim in my pond and feel restored—maybe to age…. 50?

I’ve been involved this past year in working with Steve Zimmerman, who has started two community-based charter schools in Queens. He’s helped me do some hard thinking about my divided loyalties.

On one hand I’m a fierce critic of privatizing K-12 schooling. Of course. And that includes all kinds of subtle forms of privatization and using public monies to make a profit off of educating young citizens. I’m also shocked by the many ways in which the corporate and philanthropic world has lied and cheated and abetted the growth of the “charter chains” which operate within the worst of all worlds. They are corporate-style operators with control resting in the hands of privately selected board members who live and operate worlds apart from the communities and families they make decisions for.

BUT. What about colleagues I know (like the late Ted Sizer) who started charter schools because, unlike me, no one in the public school world offered them a chance to have the kind of freedom I was given in NYC’s East Harlem or in Boston? The only way they were able to do what so many of us did during a certain period in NYC and Boston was to take advantage of charter law!!

Why can’t we go back to Shanker’s original vision and apply to ALL public schools the best lessons of the charter experiment learned over the last 30 years while avoiding the worst? Schools should be places which demonstrate that democracy and freedom needn’t be enemies.

What better way to teach democracy to young people then by placing them in the midst of self-governing, community-based schools within publicly set rules of accountability and transparency?

So I’ve joined my friend Steve Zimmerman and support his organization; CPICS, The Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools. More about them and their plans next time I write. Meantime, you can contact CPICS directly by writing Steve at or visit the website,


PS: Privatization is being pursued by the Trumpists and must be fought tooth and nail. And charters and vouchers are part of their strategy. We need to be vigilant. Democracy is our means and end. I haven’t changed my mind about any of that.

Can Choice Save Public Education revised

I recently ran across an article I wrote for The Nation in 1991 entitled “Choice Can Save Public Education.” It surprised me for two reasons, (1) Was I already worried that public education might disappear? And (2) when did I stop being such an enthusiast for choice?


At the time I wrote the Nation piece my slogan was “Small schools, choice and self-governance” was my mantra.

I even thought school size could be mandated without doing any harm—and probably doing a lot of good. My enthusiasm for choice began when in 1973 Tony Alvarado, the superintendent in East Harlem offered me a chance to start “my own” school of choice. District 4 was a densely packed district, about a square mile in size. 1973 was the beginning of a too short period in New York City when elected local school boards and their superintendents had unprecedented autonomy. Alvarado’s proposed that parents could choose to send their children to this new small school and I could choose the staff, and together we were promised a lot of freedom. Within a few years there were almost as many small schools of choice as zoned neighborhood schools. In a way it made the neighborhood schools a choice as well.

District 4 quickly went from being the poorest and lowest scoring school district to be having schools with some social class integration (more based on class than race) and higher test scores. Small schools and choice seemed to have won a victory. Self-governing schools not so much—alas—as few of the new or old school leaders liked the idea of sharing power.

Self-governing democratically operating school became my central focus from then on. As I was approaching retirement, I was attracted to Boston, which was starting something they called Pilot Schools. It seemed an exciting opportunity to explore all three ideas through a program initiated by management and the union, designed as an answer to charters—and an answer to that old question “Can Choice Save Public Education”!

Charter school were now becoming the new school reform. On the face of it, they could be seen to offer what I was looking for: Choice, self-governance, and smallness. Oddly, neither the District 4, nor Boston projects, which offered many of the things charter school proponents claimed were the purpose of charters, and had records of success, attracted the interest of the fans of charter schools.

Charters did provide many teachers of my bent the opportunity to launch new schools that provided more freedom and close ties between their constituents to try what seemed promising innovations. However, charters also appealed to opponents of public schools who believe, above all, in the virtues of an unregulated market place, and the chance to see whether entrepreneurs might be encouraged to profitably invest in K-12 education if the idea could be scaled up enough. The assumption was, as with Dunkin Donuts, that this would work if all franchised schools could be centrally managed and if buying in bulk would help lower costs—not to mention be able to avoid union wages and protections for staff.

In this new climate, choice developed new complications for me. Whose choice? For what purpose? It turned out that many “school of choice” were doing much of the choosing—choosing who they let enter and who they wanted to get rid of. Schools of choice began to defuse the power and sense of solidarity that held neighborhoods together around the institution they thought they “owned.” Rather than inviting more participation, schools of “choice” could take the tone “if you don’t like the way we do things here, choose a different school.”

It was also a step backward in the movement to school integration by class or race, as people chose schools (or the school chose them) where the students looked like them, or their kids. School choice and charters could allow White flight from “neighborhood” schools without having to move or pay private school tuition.

Smallness it turned out could also be as much a curse as a blessing it turned out. It could make life harder for many teachers in schools where increased principal power was considered the reform flavor of the day. Tyranny and conformity are easier to enforce in small rather than large schools!

Seeing how choice and smallness can be used has required some tough rethinking of old favorites on my part. In the next few months I would d like to explore these on my blog with you. I’d love reactions of any sort.

P.S. Read These Schools Belong to You and Me, written a year and a half ago by Emily Gasoi and myself.